What Is a Mortgage Survey?

••• alexskopje/iStock/Getty Images

A mortgage survey isn't a survey in the sense of a questionnaire or poll, but a land survey used to confirm the boundaries of a property before you're lent money to buy it. Mortgage lenders and title companies often require them so there's no uncertainty about the boundaries of the property they're financing. Survey companies that conduct such studies are usually regulated by state law.

What's a Property Survey?

Land surveying is a formal, legal process used to define the outline and shape of properties and determine their boundaries. Land surveyors are usually licensed by state law and must follow certain procedures when finding property lines and other features of land. They can work for independent companies or for property management businesses.

They use a variety of tools in their jobs, from GPS receivers to find precision coordinates to devices known as theodolites used to precisely measure angles.

A land survey will often measure and attempt to recreate the descriptions of property found in deeds and other formal records. Depending on the jurisdiction, these may be described in a variety of ways, including the names of bordering streets and geographical features like rivers to coordinates of latitude and longitude or coordinates in another system, such as feet or meters.

Surveyors may also conduct what are called topographic surveys, looking for elevations and the exact locations of distinctive features like trees, hills and buildings that could affect future development of a plot of land.

Why a Mortgage Survey?

Before a mortgage is issued, a mortgage lender will want to verify that everyone is on the same page about the property being purchased. A title insurance company, which provides legal guarantees against future ownership issues with the land, may also want to verify that the property's boundaries are clear cut.

Lenders also often want to verify which physical structures are located on the land and where they're located. For example, if there is a deck, house, shed or swimming pool on the property, a lender will often want to know their shapes, sizes and locations since they can affect property values.

Mortgage Survey Considerations

Exactly how much detail your mortgage and title companies will require may depend on the state, on how recently a previous survey was conducted and various other factors. If you're asked to pay for the property survey, shop around for a company that can deliver what you need at a price you're comfortable with.

Also consider whether you will want a more detailed property survey than your lender requires. This might be necessary if you want to build on the land that you're buying and need a particular kind of survey to get a building permit. It will likely be cheaper to get all of the surveying done at once than to have multiple surveys done in a short amount of time.

If you're not sure what level of survey you'll need for your plans, consult with a local contractor who you trust who has experience in your area or talk to your city, town or county about what's needed in terms of site surveys for what you plan to do.

Getting a Home Inspection

A home inspection is also often required when you get a mortgage, and it's often a good idea to get one in general when you're buying property, even if your lender doesn't require one for some reason or you're paying cash.

Unlike a surveyor, a home inspector won't usually get involved with boundary or title issues. Instead, the inspector will look for structural issues with the property, including electrical problems, plumbing issues, code compliance issues and problems with the roof. Many will also point out signs of insect infestation.

Make sure you understand what a home inspector is looking for and if it meets your needs.

Many states regulate home inspections. For example, in Illinois, they are regulated by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation - Real Estate Division.